The Database Economy

1:52 pm - January 23rd 2009

by Unity    

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Tell you what, let’s get all the shilling out of the way in the first paragraph. There’s the Convention on Modern Liberty – great idea, horrible-looking website. A regular Carnival on Modern Liberty, with the first revelries seemingly imminent, if the first deadline’s anything to go by. The Guardian has launched its new Liberty Central section (cheeky!) with a mildly amusing bit of grandstanding by Henry Porter – I’m keenly awaiting the ‘errr, about your CiF username…’ email, and…


…and if I’m absolutely honest, I’m beginning to wish that some people, Henry included, would just back off from the whole ‘database state’ thing for a little while simply because they really have only, at best, a partial understanding of the issues.

There is a significant difference between promoting liberty and trying to scare the bejeebus out of Joe Public by playing on their fears and anxieties about modern technology and, for quite a while now, the whole ‘database state’ meme has been far to focussed on the latter. Even No2ID, which has done a bang-up job of keeping the debate around IC cards going, is rather too focussed on pitching bien pensant anti-statist dystopian fantasies to the extent that, while everyone’s overdosing on regurgitated Orwell, the single most imminent and far reaching threat to personal privacy engendered by the creation of the National Identity Register, in its present form, goes almost completely unnoticed.

Before you all get too caught up in the ‘database state’, maybe you should step back and think a bit more carefully about the implications of the ‘database economy’ because that’s going to here a hell of lot sooner than you realise and its reach is much greater than you might imagine.

Personal Information, Data Protection and the Private Sector

Do you have a supermarket ‘loyalty card’?

I suspect many of you do, and I also fully expect that most of you have absolutely no idea what you agreed to when you signed on the dotted line, not when it comes to your personal information and how that can be used.

I know what you agreed to. I used to be a registered data controller, which meant it was my job to understand exactly how the Data Protection Act works. I know the system…

…and that’s why I don’t have a loyalty card and never have done.

We need to pick on someone here to demonstrate the point and as they’re the biggest player in the game, we might as well go for Tesco.

If you’ve got a Tesco Clubcard then, whether you realise it or not, and regardless of what it or may not have not have said in the fine print on the form you filled in to get the card, you’ve agreed that Tesco can use your personal information in any way that’s covered by their registration under the Data Protection Act.

To help you navigate the information in front of you, if you’ve never looked at anything like this before, we’ll pick on just one part of the registration. So if you scroll down the page somewhere towards half way, you come across a big bold heading that says “Purpose 4” and then, underneath, it says “Trading/Sharing in Personal Information”.

Yes, Tesco’s has registered the ability to sell or share your personal information to other companies and businesses.

A little further down, you’ll see another heading, “Data Subjects are:” – that’s you that is, and, at the very least, you’re covered under ‘Customers and clients’, unless you’re a Tesco employee or a supplier, both of which have their own entries. In the same section you’ll also see entries for “Complainants, correspondents and enquirers”, so even if all you’ve ever done is write to Tesco to oppose plans for new store in your area, any personal information you disclose in writing to Tesco can be extracted from your letter, stored in a database and sold on. And it not just you, either, as the next line also covers Tesco for selling information about “Relatives, guardians and associates of the data subject”, not to mention “Students and pupils” so you might be advised to keep an eye on anything your kids school might be doing in ‘partnership’ with Tesco.

The next heading, ‘Data classes”, tell you what kinds of information Tesco is permitted to collect, process and sell on, and the full list goes as follows; personal details, family, lifestyle and social circumstances, education and training details, employment details, financial details and goods or services provided.

If anything on that list has given you pause for thought, then I guess it will be either ‘family, lifestyle and social circumstances’ or ‘financial details’ but, in the right hands, information about ‘goods or services provided’ can also reveal a lot about you and your family.

The final two sections cover who the provide this information to; they’re called “Sources and Disclosures under the 1984 Act or Recipients under the 1998 Act, and where they transfer your information to (“Transfers”) which limits their operations to the European Economic Area, which is the EU and a few non-EU European countries.

Take a look at the list of ‘recipients’ for a moment – yes, you’ll see that Central Government is on the list, as are Ombudsmen and other regulators, but don’t get too caught up that for the moment. Instead, look at the kind of commercial organisations listed; suppliers and other providers of good and services, financial organisations and advisers, credit reference agencies, debt collection and tracing agencies, survey and research organisations, and…

traders in personal data.

That’s right, they can sell your information on to other business who also sell your personal information. They don’t have to tell you who they’re selling your information to, when they sold it or what it was sold for and this is all legal and above board because, when you signed up for a Tesco Clubcard to get a few crappy little money-off voucher, you agreed to all this.

That’s one business – a supermarket. Now use your imagination, think about much personal information you give to commercial businesses as a matter of routine, all of which ends up in a database somewhere along the line, and scale that up for all the different situations in which you hand over that information without ever thinking about or questioning what will happen to it after you’ve left the store, or the bank, or the website or…

And you thought the government holds a lot of information about you and your family.

One Number To Rule Them All, One Number To Find Them…

For companies who get into the business of buying and selling information from a variety of different sources, there is a big downside, a couple of obstacles that gets in the way of their building a clear and accurate information picture of you.

One of these is simply that not all the data they received is necessarily reliable. Errors can creep in and data is entered, stored and moved from location to location and, of course, people circumstances change; they move house, change jobs, have children, start or end a relationship and a thousand other things beside, all of which can mean the information that companies hold may be inaccurate or out of date in some respect.

The other big logistical problem lies in reliably tying together all the information from various sources; not only do you have the problem of possible errors in the information, itself, may be ambiguous.

What if you’ve got two people with the same name living in the household? How do you separate the information for Joe Bloggs from the information for Joe Bloggs Jr, especially if some of the information you buy is incomplete and doesn’t record middle names or ages, things which you might use to differentiate between the two?

It’s can be very difficult to combine together information from a range of different sources unless all of them have one piece of information in common, a piece of information that is unique to a particular individual…

…like the National Identity Registration Number (NIRN) which, if the ID cards scheme goes ahead, will be issued  by the government to everyone who gets an ID card.

And here’s the big problem. The NIRN is not only the key to the government’s plans for data sharing between its various departments and agencies, its also precisely what commercial organisations and businesses need to reliably connect together and share all the personal data that they hold about you, me and everyone else living in the UK. In fact, if you’re in the business of trading in personal information then the NIRN is the holy grail of your business model…

…and if you take the time to read through the Identity Card Act, you’ll find that Section 17(2) states that:

(2) The only information about an individual that may be provided to a person under this section is—

(a) information about the individual falling within paragraph 1, 3 or 4 of Schedule 1 (name, date and place of birth, gender and addresses, residential status, identifying numbers and validity of identifying documents);

The Identity Cards Act not only creates the ‘one number to rule the all’ it also allow the government to give it away to anyone who can find a reasonable excuse for asking you to provide identification for whatever it is you may be doing at a given time; like applying for a job, opening a bank account, taking out a mortgage, loan or hire purchase agreement, even for withdrawing largish sums of cash from your bank account, buying relatively expensive items, or lots of small items that add up to a relatively expensive total bill; like your main weekly or monthly trip to the supermarket.

In fact, the figure that’s been floating around in various place for a while is £200. That’s the size of transaction that the banks and others have mentioned at which, once ID cards become fairly common place, they’ll start asking people to provide and verify their ID in order to complete the transaction, grabbing and adding to their own records, if at all possible, your National Identity Registration Number in the process.

Spreading the Disease

Wow, you might think, that’s a bit of flaw in the system – but it isn’t. It’s actually a feature of the system.

Remember, the government wants you to have an ID cards but, at least to begin with, it doesn’t want to be seen to be too coercive about getting you have one by making it a compulsory scheme, at least not until it issued enough the things that it reasonably turn around and argue ‘well, most people have got them already, so we might as well just mop up the few refusniks who’re left’.

It’s tackled this in three ways.

It’s used compulsion where it thought it could get away with it without causing a major public outcry, by targeting foreign nationals and people in roles that have a security element too them, like airport security workers. That’s something we’ll see being fairly quickly extended to a wide range of other workers in the public sector such that anyone who has to carry official ID as part of their job will be propelled on to the register and handed an ID card.

It’s used the backdoor route of linking the issuing of ID cards to other official documents, like passports and driving licences although, thanks to the House of Lords, the ID card element remains an ‘optional extra’ for the time being. Unless the Act is repealed, it won’t remain that way for too long nor will it just be passports and driving licences that will be used to push people on to the register. In fact, if you look at the Act, which contains provisions giving the government the power to make access to public services conditional on proof of identity then it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that its only a matter of time and political expediency before benefit claimants get sucked into the system via the backdoor and Jobcentre staff are cheerily asking claimants to turn over their card and assume the position on the fingerprint scanner in order to sign on and get their bennies.

And, when the time comes, it will make full use of the ‘soft power’ of the banks, building societies, mortgage and finance companies and the retail sector to propel people into the system.

Disclosing your NIRN to the private sector is the sweetener that the government have put up to get them on board and with the programme, in part to create a further layer of ‘soft’ compulsion, one that has the added attraction of being rather more difficult to pin directly on the government.

There are also, however, commercial considerations at play – remember, the ID cards system is supposed to be more or less self-financing and there are limits both to how much the government can get away will screwing out of Joe Public for issuing them and also how much they can quietly bury in other departmental budgets to keep the visible costs down. More of less from the outset, generating income from the provision of identity verification services to the private sector has been a key component of the ‘business model’ of  the ID cards scheme and to get the revenue you’ve got to businesses on board and buying into your services.

This is business. The government are asking commercial businesses to buy into the scheme, buy the equipment necessary to carry out the checks and cough up a processing fee every time they use their verification services, and while some types of business have got some fairly sizeable incentives to get on board anyway, particularly the banks and financial services sector, its going to help things along considerably if you can find a way to sweeten the deal without it costing you any money…

…and the prize carrot in your garden is the same unique number you’re banking on to make your own data sharing plans work.

The Database State vs The Database Economy

The ‘database state’ sounds like a pretty scary proposition, and there’s no shortage of problems in the manner in which the government are putting it all together, but think on this…

The government, and its various departments and agencies, already holds an enormous amount of personal information about each of its citizens, often for very good reasons and, in some cases, because its information you might want, and even expect them to hold. We’re not going to get very far at all, in this day and age, if the government didn’t use databases to store a variety of tax and NI records, welfare benefits records, passport and driving licence information, car registrations, council tax records, criminal records, the electoral roll, medical records and whole bunch of other things besides.

There are often very good reasons for holding this of information and even very good reasons for sharing some of the information between different departments and agencies.

With a few exceptions, most of the issues we should be most concerned about when considering government databases are those relating to accuracy, access and security and accountability. We want the government to hold the right information, and only the information it needs for carrying out its legitimate activities. We want to know that information is secure and only available to people who have a genuine need/use for it and only when they have the legal authority access/use it. And, we want to know that the people responsible for all this are accountable for their actions and can be held to account, if and when they make mistakes, screw up or break the rules.

To help with this last important part, we can use the Data Protection Act to find out what information the government has about us, we can use the Freedom of Information Act to find out (with some exclusions) what the government is doing with that information, who’s got it and, if it being shared and/or moved around, who else has access to it or copies of it, and, ultimately, we can work our way up a chain of oversight, which includes the Information Commissioner, all the way up to Parliament, which can investigated and scrutinise the system and hold people to account on our behalf.

Out there in the ‘database economy’, we may have some idea of who’s got out information; we know who we bank with and where we shop and who our employer is, and we can for those businesses that we know have our personal information we can use the Data Protection Act to find out and look at the information they hold…

…well, some of it, because, using subject access requests under DPA, some people have discovered that certain businesses have gone to a lot of time and trouble to try to conceal just exactly how much information they hold about ordinary people by trying to design their databases in a way that bypasses the regulations in the Data Protection Act, circumventing the subject access provisions in the Act.

The Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply to the private sector, so you’ve no way of finding out exactly what a private company has been doing with your personal information, who has access to it, how they use it and whether and who they might have sold it on to and where any copies of it might be. And if you don’t know where your information and who’s got it – and it may not even be in this country – then you can’t use the Data Protection Act to find out what kind of information these other companies might have on you, at least not without going to all the trouble of making speculative subject access requests just to find out whether a company you’ve never dealt with directly has any information on you.

As for scrutiny and oversight, you could turn to the Information Commissioner, provided you can find out who’s got your information in the first place, but the Commissioner’s powers are limited, the sanctions for breaking the Data Protection Act are pretty small – a £5,000 fine is hardly going to scare the life out the likes of Tesco – and breaking the law is rather more difficult than you might have thought. As long as you cover yourself when you register with the Information Commissioner, keep the paperwork deliberately vague and don’t give your customers any clear commitments as to what you will and won’t do with their personal information that they could try and hold you to, its actually quite difficult to fall foul of the law.

And now for the big question…

So, if you’ve taken all that in, let me ask you this.

If, or rather when, after the introduction of ID cards, your National Identity Registration Number gets ‘into the wild’ and starts to pop up in database held by private companies, which will constitutes the biggest and more imminent threat to your personal privacy?

The ‘database state’ or the ‘database economy’?

Before you make your mind up, let me add just one more piece of information.

You may well look at everything above and still be thinking that, even with all the information the private companies might have relating to me, they still don’t have access to some of the information that the state has, the kind of information that I consider to be really confidential, like my medical records, tax record, any welfare benefit records.

You’re forgetting something.

You bank already knows who pays your wages or if you have any welfare benefits paid into your account and exactly how much you’re paid and when. Although the identity of your employer might be masked if it outsources its payroll to another company, it still doesn’t take a genius to work backwards from information of this kind and figure out exactly how much tax and NI you’re paying or which benefits you’re claiming.

If you regularly buy certain types of products, say ones specially made for people with diabetes or certain allergies and food intolerances, and you have supermarket loyalty and use it, then you can bet that you’re already flagged on their database as being likely to be diabetic or lactose intolerant or maybe even incontinent. Even without voluntarily handing information over to them, supermarkets can tell a lot about you and your family just from analysing what you put in your shopping trolley; whether you have children and, if so, rougly how old they are and what gender they are, and much more besides.

Not even information about your health is necessarily safe. If you’re in the habit of buying ‘alternative’ remedies and over the counter medicines from, say Boots the Chemist, then given enough time and regular purchases, a skilled data analyst will be able to pinpoint, with a fair amount of accuracy, just what health problems you may be experiencing.

How much you spend in a supermarket and what you spend you money on can easily be used to build up a detailed profile of you, telling the company everything from what your monthly income might be to your likely social class and family background to where you’re likely to live and what kind of property you’re likely to live in – if you haven’t already given the game away by giving them your address.

Now you’re really ready to answer the question – who is the bigger threat to your privacy…

…and why is it, do you think, that whenever the spectre of the ‘database state’ is raised, no one ever seems to get around to mentioning the ‘database economy’?

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments

So why do I care if the state or the even bloke round the corner knows how much I get paid or if I have an embaressing genital desise? How does this hurt me? or inconvieniance me? And why is it any different than the stereotypical old village knowing everything about everybody back in the “good old days”?

Obviously my imagination is insufficent.

Iain, Data Abuse.

whenever the spectre of the ‘database state’ is raised, no one ever seems to get around to mentioning the ‘database economy’?

Because the database economy is largely opt-in and the database state isn’t.

Furthermore, if someone in the private sector abuses my data or has a record of abuse I can shop elsewhere. If the state does it I have to put up with it.

As for NO2ID, remember they are trying to persuade the public.

Because the database economy is largely opt-in and the database state isn’t.

If you’re a neo-agrarian hermit.

Unity, whoever you are, please, please, please…stop misspelling focusing! You keep spelling it as ‘focussing’. It’s not a difficult mistake to make, no, but it is a mistake. Stop it please! For the love of god!

James, I’ve never been forced to get a Tesco Clubcard, nor am I prevented from purchasing everyday items in cash.

I can only think of one private sector database I’m compelled to be on: a bank’s, because my employers have all insisted on paying into a bank account.

I had a slight prediction that you weren’t. 😉

For rather the same reason that the distinct lack of an online Amish community doesn’t surprise me too much…


if I’m absolutely honest, I’m beginning to wish that some people, Henry included, would just back off from the whole ‘database state’ thing for a little while simply because they really have only, at best, a partial understanding of the issues.

I think this is rather unfair too. You seem to have assumed Henry lacks knowledge because of what you have read of his work. But it could be that he is writing to persuade people who aren’t as clever/knowledgeable/makes-the-time-to-understand-it as you. Or it could be both. Either way I’m not at this point particularly bothered about the minutiae as to why people should be careful about the information they give and who they give it to. What I want is for people to understand the general principles. That in itself is hard enough as the first response to your article has indicated (no offence intended Iain). The number of times we see “nothing to hide nothing to fear”… if they think that, they aren’t going to be bothered about Boots the chemist sharing details about your allergies with Barclay’s.

ukliberty: the private sector rely on some parts of state databases too. You’ll find it difficult to get credit or a mortgage without being on the electoral register. You’ll find it difficult to open a bank account without at the very least a birth certificate. So I’m not sure your attempt to draw a dividing line between the two is that successful.

Unity – thanks for that. I was aware of some of that but not all of it. I hadn’t thought about the benefits of ID cards to the private sector.

Previously I was ambivalent about ID cards – thinking them a huge waste of money but other than that not caring much about them. Now I can see there is a proper left-wing case to be firmly against them. There is a real danger they will help companies exploit the vulnerable through targeted advertising and discriminate against the poor in the provision of services. You’ve persuaded me – well done!

oh, I should also say that I was against the use of ID cards before because I was worried about them being used to target migrants, but as that part had already been introduced I hadn’t cared massively about the expansion to the rest of the population. Now I know better.

11. douglas clark

Just to say, I was born once, and i don’t have to apologise, nor justify, nor explain myself to anyone. I didn’t choose to be born, I just was. What is complicated about that? And why should anyone else care?

Ask me my name. See it at the top of this post. The rest of it is just a surrender to a hive mind.

tim f @9, that’s because the state requires banks to do particular things before allowing people bank accounts, ostensibly to prevent fraud, money laundering etc.

James seemed to suggest that we are compelled to engage with the database economy in response to my claim that we may “largely opt-in” to it. I did write ‘largely’ for a reason!

(Banks are actually dreadful because they have conspired to keep many problems a secret. Professor Ross Anderson’s work is well worth a read if you are interested in this sort of thing.)

Thought provoking. This is something that I’ve been thinking about for some time now but always had trouble putting it into words. Most people I try and talk to about this think I’m slightly paranoid if not mad.

This is why I don’t have a store card and I try and keep my name off of as much as possible. The more I’ve thought about this the more I’ve ended up not signing up for services. I just don’t want that information available on me.

The lack of accountability for the private companies is truly shocking. As far as I can see unless we force a change in the laws regarding data retention and use there is nothing we can really do. The information we give over to companies and the government are seen as the cost of doing business now. It seems to have become entrenched into our daily lives. So whether it’s the ‘database state’ or the ‘database economy’ at the end of the day the information is out there and it feel like anyone can do what they like with it.

ukliberty – thanks for the link. Some interesting stuff on there I will have to look at, especially on copyright.

Which leads me to ask – Unity, only tangentially related to this post, but if you’re doing requests at all I’d be very interested in a post about what demands you think the left should be making on copyright, either here or on your own blog.

Unity, in the past I would say it was still the database state that was the most dangerous, as whatever companies do, they can’t legally enter your home or detain or do plenty of other things that state agencies get up to now and then. However, recent changes to bailiff laws and your reference to credit agencies underlines that this distinction is not as precise as it once was. So I would agree that it is all part of the same problem.

I manage to avoid loyalty cards for supermarkets but have a couple for bookshops. I won’t sign up to any more.

Unity, in the past I would say it was still the database state that was the most dangerous, as whatever companies do, they can’t legally enter your home or detain or do plenty of other things that state agencies get up to now and then. However, recent changes to bailiff laws and your reference to credit agencies underlines that this distinction is not as precise as it once was.

A fine point, Nick.

I have to laugh that some of you are now prepared to voice disapproval of ID cards because it might help those horrible private business (the capitlaist bastards). Stuff the civil liberties and totalitarian State issues.

Don’t you know the Daily Mail is against ID cards? Aaah shit!

Unity, I agree with your emphasis on the significance of the ‘database economy’ being at least as worrying as the database state. Actually, the 2006 report “The Surveillance Society” for the Information Commissioner’s Office made these points very clear. I wrote about it on my blog too, here and also here (the former more theoretical, the latter with some examples). There’s also a related post here (on insurance and capitalism).

ukliberty, although obviously I appreciate the distinction between opt-in and opt-out, it’s more important in this case to look at the effects in practice than the effects in principle. For example, I can refuse to get an Oyster card and pay for each ticket in cash but then I pay twice as much. (Actually I compromised and bought an anoymous Oyster card which I only top up with cash, but this isn’t perfect either.) Not using the tube for someone who works in London is not really an option, so although this is opt in in principle, that does them no good. Similarly, I think almost all of the utilities companies punish people who don’t pay by direct debit by charging them more, forcing them to relinquish control of their own money. (Again, I was rather glad that I took the punishment when one such company was persistently double charging me and I could get them to fix it by just not paying them until they did. I can’t imagine how long it would have taken to get it fixed if they could just take my money at will.) As the ‘database economy’ gets more and more pervasive, it will become more and more difficult to avoid it without paying considerably more for everything than if you didn’t. Most people simply won’t be able to afford to avoid it. The ICO report refers to this sort of thing as “social sorting”. It’s a phenomenon that will become more and more significant and problematic.

Good Heavens man, have you not even heard of a popular front?

“Don’t you know the Daily Mail is against ID cards? Aaah shit!”

At some point, on a long enough time line, even the most diametrically opposed people will fall upon common ground.

Civil liberties will always be the primary reason that the ID Cards are opposed by many here I feel, anything else is bonus arguments.

21. David Heigham

I rather like the idea of people who are trying to sell me things going to the trouble of trying hard to figure out what I might want. Like Google going to the trouble of trying to figure out the ads I might be interested in, or Amazon the books that might catch my interest. The key point is that it is my choice whethr or not I respond.

The irritating waste of time and resources throughout the economy which occurs when people have National Identity numbers is that they are asked for time after time for no valid reason. (US Social Security numbers are abused in the same way). Only part of that niggling contibutes to the data flow which Unity fears and I quite like. (E.G. , banks asking for an NI number for all transactions over 200 pounds would be over 90% pure waste effort). It is convenient to be able to produce an official piece of identification when I want: my driving licence does nicely. However, the reason that National Identity Cards became so incredibly unpopular by 1951 (I still have my old one) was that government officials – Police and others – kept insisting that we produce it on all sorts of occasions, and threatening to prosecute us if we didn’t. Government have powers to misuse information in really serious as well as really annoying ways; and that is why we need to focus on bringing the database state under control.

“I have to laugh that some of you are now prepared to voice disapproval of ID cards because it might help those horrible private business (the capitlaist bastards). Stuff the civil liberties and totalitarian State issues.

Don’t you know the Daily Mail is against ID cards? Aaah shit!”

To be fair, I think it is only me you are referring to by “some of you”.

I am however delighted that I have managed to piss you off even by the manner in which I oppose something that you also oppose.

The private sector is much less accountable than the state. What are you going to do if some company uses your data in a way you don’t like? Well, probably nothing because as Unity points out, you can’t use the Freedom of Information act etc on private companies so probably you’ll never find out. But even if you do, there’s diddly squat you can do about it apart from taking your business elsewhere. If you think they’ll notice and change their behaviour accordingly you have a laughably pro-business outlook. The state could do with being a lot more accountable, but it is more accountable than the private sector.

In short – yes, stuff the “totalitarian State” issues. The issues Unity raises are a better reason to be against this project.

23. Shatterface

An excellent article and food for thought.

I suspect that ID cards are ultimately a red herring: a national database containing biometric data renders them redundant. If a fingerprint or an iris scan can be used to identify someone the ID card is so much useless plastic. A nrw government might well abolish the cards to demonstrate their liberal credentials – while leaving the invisible database intact.

This is the sort of article that makes me regret the battle between the “tl;dr” and “oh read it, it’ll be brilliant” halves of my mind that surfaces every time I read a post by Unity. Excellent post.

@DG: It’s not a misspelling, just an alternative one:

I think that you’re on to something here, Unity. Henry Porter says useful things about the threats to our liberty but doesn’t say anything useful about what is driving it. He seems to suggest, in many of his articles, that the driving force is something to do with the political history of Charles Clarke, but I cannot see how Clarke’s days at Cambridge 40 years ago demonstrating against the Vietnam War and the Greek Colonels explain the control-freakery of New Labour. Porter also seems quite naively to be expecting the Conservative Party to strongly oppose what New Labour is up to, but he doesn’t seem to have noticed that there are quite a few Tory MPs who are said to be firmly opposed to ID cards on some websites but strongly in favour of them on other websites.

I think that you are right in saying that commercial pressures are part of the driving force for ID cards and a national database, though there are others, and a big part of the problem is the weakness of New Labour to stand up to such pressures (and not some innate control-freakery of the Left). The commercial pressures come from a desire for involvement in the contracts to supply database services (and as it is difficult to specify what is needed these can be gravy-trains with no fixed terminus) and also come from a desire to use the information. In the knowledge economy, information is a commodity that can be bought and sold, and there are plenty of companies that would like to trade in information about us. The growing involvement of private companies in public services means that there are private interests who have access to data about us, and this is likely to increase in future. There are companies who have access to NHS data and sell back to the NHS analyses based on this data. The growing involvement of private companies of providers in the NHS will mean that this is likely to increase. The value of such data will be increased by being able to have a unique identifier (rather than having to eliminate by hand double records or other ambiguities).

Do you trust any of our political parties to stand up to this? I don’t.


Guano, please see this comment on the NO2ID forum. It’s the most plausible I’ve read.

As for Tory policy on ID cards, I don’t think they can make it much more clear (other than the detail), e.g. “We will scrap the ID cards scheme”.

Dan | thesamovar @ 18 – fair points.

And, to be fair, the Liberal Democrats are wholly against it too.

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    @JamieSport yes, not entirely sure if I want a clubcard anymore either…

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    […] we’ve forgotten that the fight is not purely ideological. We’ve forgotten the database economy – as Unity argues in a piece of superb clarity. All the bloggerati and lobbying of pro-liberties […]

  4. Online liberty and privacy - I | Anonymong

    […] we all use the same tools (google, facebook, blogspot etc.) as it’s much easier to query one database than to have to collate information from many. So whilst unless you take substantial measures it […]

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